Rebekah Mercer, Billionaire Donor to Anti-Science Causes, Is Off the American Museum of Natural History’s Board After Years of Protest
There had been widespread calls from museum curators and scientists for Mercer to step down.
More than two-dozen American Museum of Natural History curators called for the removal Republican megadonor Rebekah Mercer from the museum’s board in 2018, citing her habit of giving to organizations that deny the reality of climate change. Now, it would seem, those demands have finally been met—though it’s unclear who made the decision to discontinue the relationship.
Mercer’s term expired in December, the museum confirmed, but it declined to comment further. The Mercer Family Foundation, which Rebekah Mercer chairs, did not respond to requests for comment.
The foundation has donated tens of millions of dollars to climate change-denial organizations such as the Heartland Institute. She and her father, Robert Mercer, were also among the biggest Republican donors in the 2016 election cycle, spending more than $49 million that year, including $15.5 million to organizations supporting Donald Trump’s election. They introduced the president to former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, whose Breitbart News they also financed, and to then campaign manager Kellyanne Conway. Rebekah Mercer was also part of Trump’s transition team ahead of his taking office.
Numerous groups have called for the museum to cut ties with Mercer since her rise to prominence during the 2016 election. An open letter signed by 250 scientists asked the American Museum of Natural History “and all public science museums, to end ties to anti-science propagandists and funders of climate science misinformation, and to have Rebekah Mercer leave the American Museum of Natural History Board of Trustees.”
The activist group Revolting Lesbians, which has led protests against Mercer’s involvement at the museum since 2018, posted on Facebook that its “sustained direct action campaign” could be credited for Mercer’s removal from the board.
“This is a big deal because we are in a climate emergency, and a scientific institution has no place accepting money from and giving power and legitimacy to a mega-funder of climate science denial,” wrote the group.
The Mercer Family Foundation donated $1.6 million to the museum between 2012 and 2017, according to DeSmog, a blog dedicated to unmasking donations to climate change denial groups. In roughly the same time period, the foundation donated $5.9 million to the “ringleaders of climate denial,” the Heartland Institute, according to the scientists’ letter.
“I believe that genuine scientific discovery flourishes only in an atmosphere of dispassionate, open-minded inquiry, with research evaluated according to neutral, evidence-based criteria,” Mercer wrote in 2018 Wall Street Journal op-ed, denouncing claims that she was anti-science as “smears.”
“I oppose politicized science, in which researchers cannot study certain subjects—or even ask certain questions—for fear of career-ending backlash and persecution,” she claimed.
The Mercers, who are notoriously press adverse, are said to be unhappy with the attention they have attracted over their high-profile donations. In June, Vanity Fair reported that the family was no longer financially supporting Trump, although they are still donating to other conservative causes.
Mercer isn’t the first American Museum of Natural History board member to come under fire for their views on climate change. Scientists also targeted billionaire energy magnate David Koch in 2015 with an open letter calling for the institution to cut ties with the climate change denier. Later that year, at his term’s end, Koch stepped down after 23 years on the museum board. Both he and the museum denied that the break was in response to pressure from the anti-Koch campaign.
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